After yesterday’s dampener on Boxing Day’s win, we return to happier times today thanks to a very successful year of Welsh derby victories. In fact, four wins is our most successful calendar year since the dizzy heights of 2010.
It all started with the very first game of the year and a New Year hosting of Llanelli at the Arms Park. The season’s tide was turning after a run of seven defeats to begin the season, but a solid European double header against Montpellier, followed by a last-gasp win over Newport just a few days after, meant Cardiff entered 2016 in a confident mood.
Injuries to key players Gareth Anscombe, Ellis Jenkins and Sam Warburton meant that, although the starting XV was pretty strong, the bench contained four academy players and three players that would no longer be employed by Cardiff at the end of the year.
Scarlets started much the better side and were rewarded with early tries from Ken Owens and DTH Van Der Merwe to take a 14-3 lead. However, Rey Lee-Lo made a break and fed Cory Allen to open the Cardiff scoring and keep us in touch at just 20-10 down at half-time.
The second half was an almost all-Cardiff affair though, starting from just 10 minutes in when Tom James and Dan Fish teamed up to allow the later to score before Kris Dacey burrowed over from a driving maul to give the home side the lead for the first time.
With 15 minutes to go scrum-half Gareth Davies retook the lead for Scarlets but with time running out Alex Cuthbert smashed through the red wall and touched down to draw the scores level and allow Rhys Patchell the chance to kick the winner, which he duly did.
Nine crucial points for the fly-half to down Llanelli who he would ultimately move to come May in the hunt for consistent time at 10. Before he left though there was just time to beat his future employers on a second occasion, this time on their own patch.
There was a role reversal in the first half of the second game with Cardiff flying out of the traps to take a 0-10 lead thanks to a Lloyd Williams solo score and the boot of Gareth Anscombe. Scarlets fly-half Dan Jones kept them in touch with three penalties, but a Tom James poacher try extended the lead to 9-18 at the break.
A nervy start to the second period saw Gareth Anscombe, Dan Jones and Aled Thomas all trading penalties, before the Cardiff fly-half produced a moment of magic to support Tom James on a breakaway and throw the dummy of the season to score with 10 minutes to go.
Llanelli responded soon after through John Barclay to set up a nervy finale, but some magnificent game management from the men in blue was more than enough to see out the 80 minutes and produce a huge celebration from players and fans alike.
The confidence from that victory would the catalyst to see us through to a win in our next game, a welcome of Newport to the Arms Park, and a chance to gain four straight wins as the season drew to a close.
After Josh Turnbull scored from close range after five minutes it was another Gareth Anscombe show as two penalties and a perfectly weighted chip kick for Rey Lee-Lo to collect and score were more than enough to cancel out Sarel Pretorious’ try for a 16-8 half-time lead.
The second half was effectively attack v defence as Newport clung on while Cardiff desperately searched for a bonus point win. Anscombe kicked a penalty early on but had to wait until the dying moments to cut through the opposition midfield and score a try for his 36th point in two games.
For the complete circle it came down to the last game of the year to gain the fourth Welsh derby victory and the Boxing Day visit of Newport. A team who haven’t won away since March 2015 against a team who hadn’t won at home for three months.
A packed out Arms Park of 11,654 saw Cardiff boosted by the returning Kris Dacey, Nick Williams and Alex Cuthbert, although Tom James was forced to pull out of the side late in the day.
The first half was a fast and frantic affair as Cardiff desperately tried to get ahead early but Newport persistently clung on to our coat tails. Steve Shingler opened the scoring early with a fantastic solo finish before trading penalties with Angus O’Brien to make the scores 13-6.
With Rey Lee-Lo in the sin bin though we were a wide defender short and when Matthew Morgan stepped up into the defensive line it was spotted by Ashton Hewitt who took full advantage, chipping ahead and touching down to bring Newport back to two points behind.
However a blitz from the home side in the final 10 minutes of the first half saw Kris Dacey spin and score from close range, before Shingler turned provider for Josh Navidi to go under the posts. Newport’s only reply was from an O’Brien penalty leaving the score 27-16 at half-time.
Unfortunately the second half was a turgid affair, a shame after such an excellent first half, that remained 0-0 for the entire 40 minutes. Cardiff spent too much time hunting bonus points while suffering with extreme white line fever, but were defensively excellent therefore not allowing Newport the chance to get back into the game.
So a year starting and ending with a Welsh derby win that can overall be seen as a successful one against our local rivals, but where the lows were very low indeed! Let’s hope for a kick on next year, and maybe we’ll even beat the Ospreys at last!